This story is by G. Sanders and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
My child, let me tell you of freedom. Let me tell you of your home and how you came to be here. Let me tell you how to find peace in your soul. My precious one, your path to hell was not your fault, and one day, you will be free.
I was born a queen, as every girl was in my village. My mother named me Ron, after my grandmother, for she hoped I would make wise choices. There was great rejoicing on that day. Your father was born a king, and if you had any brothers, they would be kings too. Our people were strong and graceful, loving and wise. We thrived on the land and decorated ourselves with bright paints and beautiful feathers. Our dark skin was a canvas for our creative spirits. We made music and danced on every occasion, thanking our ancestors for our bountiful lives.
It was the day I told your father that I was carrying you. The whole tribe celebrated with song and dance. It was a joyful day, but tainted by the whispers from the other tribes.
“They say demons have come from the pitch dark depths.”
“We heard their hell magic can kill a man in the blink of an eye.”
“They come in the night and drag entire tribes to the ends of the earth.”
“Their skin is like sun dried bones.”
“Skeletons who speak in garbled tongues.”
“They destroy all they touch.”
We had heard these rumors before, but nothing came of them. This time was different. I feared for my child. Whether beasts, demons, or worse, something was coming. We had to be prepared.
I was so scared, we all were, but we sought comfort in each other. Your father held me in his arms every night and promised, “Ron, we will get through this together.”
Our nights were no longer full of laughter and music. We waited, vigilant, for the looming darkness. We disguised ourselves and became one with the land. We sent scouts to find more information, but none of them returned. We did everything we knew to defend our lands, our homes, our people… but it was all in vain.
The whispers were true. Every one of them. They appeared as skeletons with eyes pale and soulless. It happened so fast. They surrounded us, spreading fire all around to cage us in. The children screamed in terror as they were snatched from our safe places. Your father defended us with all his great might. They feared him and struck him with their magic. He fell and his blood splattered across my skin. I screamed with rage at the sight and I felt you curse them from my womb.
They trampled our elders and scattered our livestock. They stripped us naked and defiled us— women, men, and children alike. They beat us and clamped chains around our ankles, wrists, and necks. Then they made us march.
We walked for days in the scorching sun, carrying our wounded on our backs. The demons were fools and did not heed our warnings. Their skin burned and peeled like snakes. We walked all night and let the beasts pick them off, not bothering to alert them. If not for their magic they would be easy to kill.
Your father was stronger than ten of them. He survived their magic blast and our warriors carried him with honor. The demons used their magic to heal him, much to our protests. We prayed over him day and night as we marched that our ancestors would not let his soul fall. It would be better for him to follow his grandfathers than to become sun dried.
We lost many during that trek.
Eventually we came to the end of the earth. We only knew it from songs and tales of the other tribes. The vastness of it took our breath away. It was like the earth had been replaced by the never ending sky. As far as the eye could see, blue and blue. We knew they were taking us to hell.
It broke my heart. My people were good. We honored our ancestors. We honored the land. We honored each other. Why were we being abandoned now? As one, we wept in penance, for it must have been our fault. We must have angered the gods or forgotten an ancestor.
The demons laughed like hyenas and jackals. They mocked us, spit on us, beat us, and marched us on. There were more of them at the edge of the earth where the ground was soft and the waters were ferocious. There were more people too, chained like us, carrying their wounded. Hundreds of thousands of us, chained together, lamenting to the earth.
The magic in your father stole his voice. His body was rigid and his face was becoming pale. He needed a real healer. Our healer was among us, but we had no herbs. I prayed over him without ceasing and one night he came to me in a dream. “Ron, please, send me to my grandfathers. Do not let me die of their poisons. Do not let them drag me in shame to hell.”
I wept bitterly when I woke, for how could I kill the man I loved? But I did not have long to weep. That day they herded us into the bellies of their giant ships. We were caged in the constant swell of the thing along with many others from many other tribes. No one could tell us what was going on. No one knew where we were going or how long it would take to get there.
We did not see the sunlight for days. But then one of the demons came down to shout at us. He dragged a group of us up into the blinding sun. There was nothing to see for miles around us other than blue and blue, two worlds we did not know above and below.
All of those in the line beside me were sick or wounded. I was not ill, but my stomach had begun to show. I tried to hide it, but it was impossible now. They unchained us, then stripped us naked and threw buckets of freezing water at us. They took rough brushes and scrubbed our bodies like they wanted our skin to peel off like theirs.
“Ron!” I heard your father cry out down the line. “Please…”
It broke my heart. We were supposed to go through this together. There was no torture worse than this. I bolted and grabbed him. It took all of my might for he was now lame. I hauled him to the edge before they could stop me and pushed him over.
As he fell he watched me with a look of peace and thankfulness. I watched him through wet eyes as he splashed into the abyss. My cries were suffocated by an all consuming abandonment. Fear rooted my feet to that spot. Unable to look at the waters any longer, I turned to see those behind me. Their dead eyes longed for that escape, but our demons were already taking action and clamping chains around their necks.
They came at me with the collar and I panicked, turning back to the abyss. Every part of me, from the tips of my toes to the top of my head, screamed at me to jump. I could not do this alone. I could not bring a child into hell. I could not endure any more shame.
But then I heard the voice of my grandmother, “You are a queen Ron. If you jump they will follow.”
It broke my heart. Of course it was true. Everyone behind me would throw away their lives right after ours if I jumped. I did not want to be responsible for anyone else, but I had to hold my head high for my honor, for your father’s honor, and for the honor of our ancestors. For your sake, for my sake, for the sake of our people, I had to choose hope.
I looked at freedom one last time without knowledge of the years to come, and stepped back into my chains. And as those chains closed around my neck I looked into the eyes of the demon who tightened them. They were cold like the abyss. His flesh was raw and peeling. He was ugly and weak.
I put my hand on my stomach and told you with confidence. “You will be stronger than them. There is hope. You will be a queen. Your children will be kings and queens the way your ancestors were. I will put my hope in you.”